Letter: An open letter to the mayor and council of Central Manitoulin

Some explanation of the proposed Wagg’s Wood transfer to the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy

Dear Mayor Stephens and Councillors,

You wondered why the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) is interested in obtaining a “small piece of property” in Mindemoya. I can tell you why the EBC is interested!

First, a bit of background. The EBC is a charitable land trust with a mission to protect sensitive and significant natural habitat. On Manitoulin they own part of the Cup and Saucer mountain and are maintaining a very popular trail there for tourists and Islanders. The Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands and the EBC cooperated to save the trail a few years ago when the entrance to the trail was closed. Now there is a new entrance and it is better than ever. The “small piece of property” that is the A.J. Wagg Memorial Park is a natural habitat with trails that is also worth protecting. 

The spring of 2016 marked the beginning of what is now a three-year effort to preserve the A.J. Wagg Memorial Park, after Central Manitoulin council severed two acres and sold them without notice and without prior rezoning from parkland to commercial. Much of that forest was razed to make a parking lot. Subsequently we learned there is nothing to prevent any municipality from selling its parks, and no notice is required if the buyer already owns adjacent property. That is sad but true. Many of us fear it could happen again.

At first, some of us hoped the municipality would make a covenant to preserve the rest of our park. The Mindemoya Active Living Trails (MALT) committee, a group of citizens that has the active support of the Manitoulin Nature Club, provided letters supporting the preservation of the park from the Family Health Team, the Central Manitoulin Public School and Community Living, where Judy Olacke spearheaded the Maple Ridge Trail. However, no progress was made with council on preserving our park.

Then in 2018, MALT and others had discussions with the EBC, who offered to help. MALT, the Wagg family and others enthusiastically supported their offer to acquire the park. EBC made two presentations to the Property Committee. Last December, Council approved in principle the transfer of the land to the EBC. We thought we had saved Wagg’s Wood! But between December and the end of March, for reasons unknown to us, council decided they wanted to retain ownership and would only consider a 99-year lease. Leases have escape clauses, so I guess that was in effect another refusal to protect the “small piece of property” that is our nature park.

In May 2019, at my urging, Mr. Barnett, of the EBC, called you and the upshot was that Mr. Barnett asked to speak at a council meeting. I attended the May 15 meeting where you relayed Mr. Barnett’s request and I was stunned when you said you did not understand why the EBC would be interested in such a “small piece of property.”

It is because over the past three years it has become evident that the only way to protect our park is to make sure a conservancy trust like the EBC has ownership. The EBC is offering to maintain our nature park for posterity. Anyone who wants the park preserved should support their proposal, including members of our current council. Why? Because future councils can also sell parkland at any time. A land trust cannot. If EBC ceased to exist for whatever reason, the park would go to another land trust. 

MALT, the Manitoulin Nature Club and the Wagg family, and others, support the transfer of Wagg’s Wood to EBC. In other words, EBC wants to take over the “small piece of property” because concerned local citizens want them to save our park for posterity.

Despite the regrettable loss of two acres, Wagg’s Wood was and still is worth preserving. It has an unusual variety of flora including some that are rare on Manitoulin, like the nodding trillium and blue cohosh, leatherwood and Canada moonseed vine. It includes a hardwood forest on the north end that has 20 different species of trees, including one yellow birch that is by far the largest tree I have ever seen on Manitoulin. The park trails have suffered from neglect, in fact, currently the main trail is blocked by fallen trees, but it has great potential as a nature reserve and as a place to walk the trails and observe and enjoy nature

Mr. Barnett will speak to a committee of council on Tuesday, June 25 at 1:30 pm in the council chambers. I hope council will agree that EBC offers the best way to preserve Central Manitoulin’s only municipally-owned nature park and trail for posterity. Many of us who care deeply about the future of Wagg’s Wood intend to be there to support their proposal!

At one point in this three-year saga, according to The Expositor, you said that the parking lot was a good use of the “property.” No, a parking lot is not a good use of parkland.

Sincerely,

Jan McQuay

Mindemoya